I have recently been gifted with a profound metaphor that I will share with you, but first
TWO STORIES. A treasured member of my faith community lives with early on-set Parkinson’s Disease. When his brain stops moving him forwad, he walks backward. Healthline.com says, “It’s a simple way for you to challenge different muscles and force your mind to focus and operate differently.” Rather than stopping, my friend lets go and imagines another way to move. Backwards becomes frontwards.
In the 1960’s war novel, Catch-22, Yosarian walks backwards, “…because he was continually spinning around as he walked to make certain no one was sneaking up on him from behind.” Yosarian was experiencing the reality of war, not paranoia. The enemy was sneaking up behind him with intent to kill. His fixation on fear had taken possession of him, so he walked backwards to be safe. And now
THE METAPHOR. What if we trained our souls to stop the unhealthy ego-spin by walking backwards? This spiritual practice necessitates a profound letting-go, just as it does when our bodies attempt to walk backwards. We are awkward and afraid of falling, so we rely on a friend’s arm or trekking poles, and our progress is slow. Spiritual backwalking requires us to rely on the movements of the Spirit instead of relying solely on an out-of-control ego. We find the courage to walk inside the dangerous fissures of constant change and uncertaintly. We take on a holy vulnerability when we risk this spiritual backwalking.
Our society doesn’t endorse walking backwards. It’s motto is forward-thrust with great gusto, a speed which supports all manner of unhealthy ego-patterns, the worst of them being an inordinate drive to control self and others at all cost. This is the war zone we find ourselves in at this moment and like Yosarian, we have to walk backwards to be safe. We have to let go and trust Spirit to companion us through the change and uncertainty that bombards us. And now
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Coleridge enthusiasts will recognize the reference to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Alone, alone, all, all alone/ Alone on a wide, wide sea/ And never a saint/ Took pity on my soul in agony.” Whether spawned from an opium delerium or a moment of contemplation, the truth is there.
A nod to my friend Ernest Hemmingway and his brilliant short, short story, “A Clean Well-Lighted place,” where all is nada without one.
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It has been two days since I visited my sister-in-law in the memory care unit. An intense collage of feelings have mixed with tears as I struggle to make sense of the unsensible.
GONE WHERE ARE YOU MOMENTS OF TERROR HUMOR GRIEF UNLESS YOU BECOME LIKE LITTLE CHILDREN YOU CANNOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN WITHOUT THE ABILITY TO THINK…IS THERE A SOUL it’s all there.
Phyllis was diagnosed with Alzheimers two years ago and now after another fall and a broken hip and a move, the disease has progressed dramatically in a short time. I am grateful that my brother hasn’t lived to witness this.
At last this morning I was gifted with a measure of sense and hope:
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This poem follows on the heels of yesterday’s prayer. It dogged me with the tenacity of Heaven’s Hound until this was born. Ponder with me.
The wall between us and the divine is very thin at this time of year. It permeates every nook and cranny of our existence. If we are awake, we can hear its breath whisper words of love through chinks we have burrowed in the doors to our souls. Keep on knocking.
Rilke’s Book of Hours
You, God, who live next door—
If at times, through the long night,
I trouble you with my urgent knocking—
this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom.
I know you’re all alone in that room.
If you should be thirsty, there’s no one to get you a glass of water.
I wait listening, always.
Just give me a sign! I’m right here.
As it happens, the wall between us is very thin.
Why couldn’t a cry from one of us break it down?
It would crumble easily, it would barely make a sound.
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I entered the YMCA swimming pool earlier than usual today, desperate to heal from the strident rancor that stalked me through the written word, spoken word, unspoken word, words, words, words. No escape here. As I sank into the comfort of the hot tub, the blaring voice of Thursday’s aerobics instructor reverberated through the space, shattering my renewal attempt. “Let it go,” I told myself, “In twenty minutes she’s out of here.” I began my hour’s swim and instead of leaving with her class, the instructor lingered through “my” hour, engaged in a non-stop decibel-enhanced monologue with a captivated swimmer.
Workout ended and instructor gone, I sank back into the comfort of the hot tub, silence ensuing throughout the pool. Two deaf women joined me, signing sparingly, enjoying their time. Blissful silence wrapped around me like a child’s blankie warding off a nightmare.
A familiar thought pushed its way into consciousness. “I wish I were deaf. I hardly hear as it is, yet some sounds are physically painful…might as well take it all.” If my deaf companions could have read my thoughts I can guess their response. “It’s a privilege to be here,” they would say. “Its a privilege to be here as we are. It’s a privilege for you to be here just as you are.” Savor what you have. Savor who you are.”
I wrap a blanket of silence
around my battered psyche,
snuggling into its warm comfort
where I conjure the resilience
to surface in the world
© Rita Hemmer Kowats 10-4-2019
We are called to play one another
with the instrument we’ve been given.
“SoulCards” by Deborah Koff-Chapin. The technique Deborah has created is called “touch drawing.” The cards come in two decks of 60 images and can be used alone or with others as reflection tools. They have enriched my meditation for years and have helped those I companion with. www.soulcards.com
Used with permission from the artist
My brother died last April and in May my sister and I received an unexpected invitation from his neighbor to accompany him to Wolf Haven. The unspoken intent was to pay tribute to George. This poem emerged from my longing for connection. I often encounter those who have passed in various ways. This was by far the most powerful.
The Holy Howl
On May eighteenth
before spring had taken hold,
we encountered the freshly transitioned spirit of our brother
in the haunting howl of twelve wolves
at Wolf Haven Sanctuary.
Once abused, abandoned or old,
now they pace, paw and hunt safely with a new pack.
George had loved these wolves
because they were the ancestors
of his beloved Siberian Husky Zane.
A self-designated member of Zane’s pack,
George would wrestle on the floor with Zane
and howl “JingleBells” in unison with the Husky.
We came to Wolf Haven to honor our brother.
We ambled in a tight circle
pausing at each of the six enclosures
to meet the pacing pair that called it home
and to hear the story of their journey to Wolf Haven.
Arriving back at the entrance we stopped
to listen to the guide’s closing remarks.
Eerily silent throughout the tour, now
a lone wolf lifted its head and let lose
a magnificent primal howl,
stopping the guide in mid-sentence.
An expectant silence ensued,
shattered soon by a raucous chorus
as the whole pack joined in.
They split the mythical veil
that separates here from hereafter.
We met our brother in the holy howl.
Rest in peace, George.
© Rita H Kowats 9-23-19
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